Mastering filmmaking

CCA's Cinema Visionaries Lecture Series is a popular public-programs lineup of screenings and engaging Q&A sessions with today's most luminary filmmakers.

The lecture series is also part of the undergraduate and graduate Film programs’ curricula that gives students the invaluable opportunity to learn from the best directors in the industry.

The successful lecture series, founded in 2010 with a grant from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, is funded with the generous support of Carla Emil and Rich Silverstein. Past guests include Lisa Cholodenko, Michael Moore, Werner Herzog, Lucy Walker, John Waters, and Gus Van Sant.

Perhaps even more relevant than the on-stage celebrity aspect of the Cinema Visionaries Lecture Series is what happens off the stage: Film students have the unique opportunity to learn directly from true masters of cinema. CCA master classes bolster the learning experience for students by giving them access to groundbreaking directors—literally placing them in front of their mentors, where they can engage in real-world conversations about practices in the industry. Every Film student has the opportunity to hear directly from internationally renowned filmmakers who are at the top of their field.

Master class guests typically share how they got started in the business— including pitfalls to avoid—and they offer genuine advice on how to pursue a career in filmmaking.

Rob Epstein on benefits of master classes

The experience for students to work directly with both Hollywood and independent heavyweights offers students studying film at CCA an exceptional platform to take their craft to the next level.

"The highlight of the entire Cinema Visionaries series is the master class for the students in the Film programs," explains Rob Epstein, co-chair of the Film Program and MFA in Film, and himself a two-time Academy Award–winning director.

"For these students, to have an intimate session with ample opportunity to ask questions of and be in conversation with someone like Alex Gibney, it's a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing. All of our [Cinema Visionaries] guests are at the very top of their fields and each has so much experience and knowledge to share. It’s really a great privilege to have them on campus for both events."

SF International Film Festival & Alex Gibney

CCA and the San Francisco Film Society (SFFS) collaborated last May at the 58th annual San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF), the longest-running film festival in the United States and an essential showcase for international filmmakers, by co-presenting a Cinema Visionaries event that featured Academy Award–winning documentarian Alex Gibney (hailed by Esquire as “the most important documentarian of our time”).

The Cinema Visionaries event took place at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas on May 24 and featured Gibney in an in-depth career conversation with SFFS Executive Director Noah Cowan and Epstein. (Gibney's documentary Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine opened the festival.) Known for his cinematic, gripping, and deeply insightful documentaries, Gibney has received the following awards: Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, Peabody, the DuPont-Columbia, the Independent Spirit, and the Writers Guild of America Award, to name just a few.

Gibney’s film Taxi to the Dark Side won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 2008. His documentary about Lance Armstrong’s spectacular fall from grace, The Armstrong Lie (2013), was short-listed for the 2014 Academy Award. (The documentary was also nominated for the 2014 BAFTA Award, along with his 2013 film We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks.)

Because SFFS champions the world’s finest films and filmmakers through programs anchored in and inspired by the spirit and values of the San Francisco Bay Area, the collaboration was a natural fit.